The Two Witches

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There were once a woman and her daughter-in-law who were both witches. One night during the annual Sohrai festival the men of the village were going from house to house singing and getting rice beer to drink; and one young man named Chandrai got so drunk that when they came to the house where the two witch-women lived he rolled himself under the shelf on which rice was stored and fell asleep. Next morning he came to his senses but he did not like to come out and show himself for fear of ridicule so he made up his mind to wait till a party came round singing again and then to slip out with them unperceived.

He lay waiting and presently all the men of the house went away to join in the danka dance; leaving the mistress of the house and her daughter-in-law alone. Presently, the two began to talk and the elder woman said “Well what with the pigs and the goats that have been sacrificed during this Sohrai we have had plenty of meat to eat lately and yet I don’t feel as if I had had any.” “That is so,” answered her daughter-in-law; “fowls’ and pig’s flesh is very unsatisfying.” “Then what are we to do?” rejoined the old woman, “I don’t know unless you do for the father of your grandchild.” When he heard this Chandrai shivered with fright and hid himself further under the rice shelf, for he saw that the two women must be witches.

That day was the day on which a bullock is tied to a post outside each house and at noon the husband of the younger witch began to dig a hole outside the house to receive the post. While he was working Chandrai heard the two women begin to talk again. “Now is your opportunity,” said the younger woman, “while he is digging the hole.” “But perhaps the ojha will be able to discover us,” objected the other. “Oh we can prevent that by making the ojha see in the oiled leaf the faces of Rupi and Bindi—naming two girls of the village—and we can say that my husband had seduced them and then declined to marry them and that that was why they killed him.” The old woman seemed to be satisfied, for she took up a hatchet and went out to where her son was digging the hole. She waited till he bent down to throw out the earth with his hands and then cut open his back and pulled out his liver and heart and brought them into the house. Her unfortunate son felt a spasm of pain when his mother struck him but he did not know what had hurt him and there was no visible wound. The two women then chopped up the liver and heart and cooked and ate them.

That night when the village youths came round to the house, singing, Chandrai slipped out with them unperceived and hastened home. Two or three days later the bewitched man became seriously ill; medicines and sacrifices did him no good; the ojhas were called in but could make nothing of the illness. The villagers were very angry with them for the failure and the headman told them that they must ascertain by means of the oiled leaf who had caused the illness, or it would be the worse for them. So the ojhas went through their ceremonies and after a time declared that the oiled leaf showed the faces of the two girls Rupi and Bindi; and that it was they who were eating up the sick man. So the two girls were sent for and questioned but they solemnly swore that they knew nothing about the matter. No one believed their protestations and the headman ordered that filth should be put into their mouths and that they should be well beaten to make them confess. However before any harm was done them Chandrai sprang up and called out to the headman: “You have proof that these girls are witches, but I will not let you beat them here. Let us take them to yonder open field; the token of their oath is there and we will make them first remove it. If we beat them first they will probably refuse to remove the oath.” “How do you know about their oath?” asked the headman. “Never mind, I do know.” The villagers were convinced by his confident manner and all went with the two girls to the open field.

Chandrai’s object was to get away from the witches’ house for he was afraid to speak there; but when they were out in the open he stood up and told the villagers all that he had seen and heard the two witches do; they remembered that he had been missing for a whole day during the Sohrai festival and believed him. So the sick man’s wife and mother were fetched and well beaten to make them restore the sick man to health; but his liver and heart had been eaten so that the case was hopeless and in a few days he was dead. His relations in revenge soon killed the two witches.

Rupi and Bindi whose lives had been saved by Chandrai went and established themselves in his house, for they declared that as they owed their lives to him it was plain that he must marry them.